Capitals, Islanders continue duel for East lead

NHL Hockey

The crowded battle for the NHL’s Eastern Division lead will continue when the New York Islanders play host to the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

Washington defeated the Islanders 1-0 in a shootout Thursday and the three-game series between the teams concludes Tuesday in Washington.

“These three games are a little more like a playoff series than it is regular season,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said, “so you know we will get to take a look at things versus them and they will try to do the same for us and make some adjustments to maybe find something that might loosen it up a little bit.”

The Capitals (30-13-4, 64 points) have nine games remaining in the regular season and lead the division by one point over the Pittsburgh Penguins (30-14-3, 63 points) and the Islanders (29-13-5, 63 points). The Boston Bruins are a close fourth (27-13-6, 60 points).

The top four teams in the division make the playoffs and the top two will host first-round series. Home ice appears to be of particular concern for the Islanders, who are 19-2-3 at home and 10-11-2 on the road. The Capitals are 14-6-2 at home and 16-7-2 on the road.

Washington may be without forward Alex Ovechkin on Saturday. He did not play in overtime Thursday.

Ovechkin went to the bench with 2:49 left in the third period, and Friday the Capitals said he is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Ovechkin, 35, has 730 career goals. His next will tie Marcel Dionne for fifth in NHL history.

Ilya Samsonov made 26 saves for the Capitals on Thursday to post his second shutout of the season.

It was the second straight 1-0 game between the teams; Semyon Varlamov made 29 saves in a New York home win on April 6.

The Capitals lead the season series 4-2.

Varlamov made 28 saves Thursday for his fifth shutout, which is tied for the NHL lead.

“It was a playoff game,” New York’s Nick Leddy said. “Both teams played well defensively and it goes back to both goalies playing very well and shutting the door on both sides.”

The Islanders were shut out for the second time in their last four games. They have scored 19 goals in their last 10 games, and six came in one game.

New York is staying in games with solid goaltending and defense, especially on the penalty kill. The Islanders killed off all three Washington power-play chances and has killed 23 of their last 24 penalties overall.

“They’ve done their homework and they’re getting rewarded for it,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “But there’s a lot of commitment by a lot of guys. When everything else fails, you’ve got to have good goaltending and we’ve been fortunate in that aspect as well.”

Forward Michael Raffl made his Capitals debut. He had been out with an upper body injury since being acquired in an April 12 trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. Raffl and linemates Conor Sheary and Lars Eller performed well, combining for eight of Washington’s 28 shots on net.

“We talked about it a little bit about before the game,” Eller said, “about being really close to each other so we forced we forced a lot of turnovers. And because we were close together, we were supporting each other in the offensive zone.

Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara will play his 1,600th NHL game, becoming the fifth defenseman and 13th player overall to reach that mark.

–Field Level Media

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